September 27, (THEWILL) – The leader of the Arewa Youth Consultative Forum (AYCF), Alhaji Yerima Shettima, speaks on issues of national interest in this interview with AYO ESAN. Excerpts:
You would recall that when they met in Lagos in August, the Southern Governors declared that the next President of Nigeria must come from the South. Apparently responding to this, the Northern Elders Forum (NETF) recently said the North would not concede the presidency to the South in 2023. What is your take on these opposing positions?
As far as we are concerned, this is not a military government. It is democracy and democracy has to do with give and take. The more the number, the merrier it is. The minorities may have their say and so will the majority. That is what is involved. Long before the elders made that statement on Sunday, we in Arewa Youth Forum said and we still maintain that nothing will be binding on us, as long as it is not constitutional. We have said it times without number. I was surprised that state governors could openly come out and say what they said as if the presidency is their birthright.
They said the South must produce the next president. The person that read the communique of that meeting is supposed to be a learned person, a very intelligent lawyer who should know that anything that is not documented constitutionally cannot be binding on the citizens of this country. Funny enough, he was even the one that made this declaration. We are not fools and we cannot get carried away by intimidation. Rhetoric is not enough.
Our position is confirmed and the position of the Northern Elders Forum has clearly given you a sense of our direction that come 2023, no zonal arrangement will work. This is because if it would work, ex-President Goodluck Jonathan would not have contested in 2011. It is just coming from them now as if they have just woken up from their slumber.
So if there is any backyard arrangement by any political party that will be at the level of such party. We will ensure that if any political party makes the mistake of producing its candidate based on zonal arrangement, we will mobilised against that party and vote for a party that allows for an open policy, for everybody to participate.
What is your reaction to former Military President, General Ibrahim Babangida (retd.) statement that the next Nigeria president should be below 70 years?
In fact, some of us feel that 70 years is even too old. We prefer somebody aged between 40 to 50 years. Anybody who wants to be President of Nigeria must not be older than 50 years. Anybody that is up to 70 belongs to the older generation. We don’t need such people anymore because they are too old. We need people who will not be using tax payers’ money to go to hospital. We need those that are energetic and fair-minded, people who are in tune with reality and global trends. We are looking up to younger people. We shall mobilise our people across board and together with our counterparts in the South, we’ll ensure that never again will an old person rule this country.
There is a raging controversy over who should collect Value Added Tax between the states and the Federal Government. What is your position on this?
There is no need for controversy. This is because many of us have long before now said there is a need to restructure the country. The states’ desire to control the revenue accruing from VAT is one aspect of restructuring that we have been talking about. Fiscal restructuring and political restructuring, among others, are the things we have been asking for. The states cannot always rely on the centre to provide for them. Let there be restructuring. A strong and powerful centre that will be dishing out to the states cannot continue forever.
Our principle of restructuring is what Governor Nyesom Wike of Rivers State is exploiting. Let us go back to what happened in the 1960s when the founding fathers of Nigeria made the country work. This country was working then because we had a system that encouraged everybody to go back to his region and be productive, instead of waiting for the centre to bring them money. This practice is what made many of the governors we have today to be lazy and unproductive. There is no state or region in this country that is not blessed with one thing or the other. But because they are over-dependent on the centre and oil money, many of them are not productive. They always wait till the end of the month to collect allocations from the centre. This cannot continue. So, I completely agree that the states should generate their own revenue and take a certain percentage of it to the centre. If they refuse to agree and amend the constitution for total restructuring, let us start from somewhere. That is exactly what Governor Wike is demonstrating and it should be so.
What is your comment on the successes recorded by the Armed Forces in their renewed effort to put an end to terrorism in the country?
We have said it and we will continue to say that there is an improvement in our efforts to curtail insecurity in recent time. Perhaps, if the government had done this earlier, we would have better results by now. But it is better late than never. The question is this: Are terrorists stronger than the Armed Forces? No. Two or three things could be said to have happened: That some of them are very corrupt; that they are compromising the security of the country; some of them lacked the political will to address the issue; or some probably have turned it to a business where everybody collect their shares at the expense of the lives of innocent Nigerians. If it is so, this must be discouraged. I have no doubt that if we have a good person on ground, who is ready to do the work, we will get the desired results as soon as possible.
I commend the Nigeria Armed Forces for their recent efforts and their doggedness. They should not suspend the tempo. We should not also leave everything to them. Nigerians must also cooperate with them by passing valid information to them and doing the needful.
The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) will be conducting the Anambra governorship election on November 6, 2021. What is your advice to INEC as it gets ready for the election?
The election must be transparent. We should be able to see transparency in the process of the election. That is the only thing that will give us confidence and make us to believe that in 2023 INEC will be able to perform. The Anambra governorship election will be a test case for INEC. It should let us see an improvement, compared to what we had in 2019. Let it improve, let things be done the right way and let the conduct of the election be transparent. INEC should also let the will of the people count. That is important. If the will of the people is taken for granted, there is every likelihood that people will fight for their rights and in doing that, it means we are going to have more trouble. May God forbid that.
Some of the southern states have passed the Anti-Open Grazing Law. But the Miyetti Allah and many other groups in the North seem to be against this. As the leader of the Arewa Youth Consultative Forum, what is your take on the new law?
Times and events have changed. I am of the view that we must not encourage open grazing. This open grazing is becoming more troublesome. A lot of Nigerians are still talking in the past. Let there be ranches everywhere. Let us have peace for once in our lifetime. For the laws that are even said to be in favour of open grazing, you can see some governors like Aminu Masari and Abdullahi Ganduje of Katsina and Kano States, respectively, saying we have gone beyond that now. They are calling for the establishment of ranches. Let the state governments do the needful and do it properly. Let them come together and discuss with those who own cattle on the modalities. Definitely we cannot allow herders and farmers clashes, with the attendant loss of lives, to continue unnecessarily. That is not right.
What do you think of ethnic agitators, particularly the Indigenous People of Biafra, IPOB, in the country?
What they are doing is absolute madness. Yes, there is the right to self- determination. But when you want to emphasise that and you don’t go through the proper channel, then something is definitely wrong. There is a procedure, if you chose to do so. If you want to go your own way, it should not be by unleashing terror on innocent Nigerians in the name of agitation. For us, their agitation is a scam. They are using it for selfish interest and that must be discouraged. You cannot be deceiving the people and make it look like you are fighting for them. Ignorantly they keyed into your programme, but unknown to them, you are using them to make money. This must be discouraged. That is not a ‘ struggle’. We are all products of ‘struggle’. If we had wanted money, we would have become better than what we are now. If you want to struggle for your people, you should do it genuinely.
After all, we had MASSOB (Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra) before IPOB. Did you see MASSOB taking to violence for one day? MASSOB was pressing its demands through the United Nations and other international agencies. So you don’t just come here and you put your family in the United Kingdom and begin to take advantage of youth unemployment, put them on the streets and begin to make money behind the scene. Let him tell the people what he was doing in Kenya. Was it not to go and collect money? What kind of struggle is that? It is unfortunate.
Nigeria will be 61 in a few days. How do you see the country at 61?
We thank God that we are still together as one country. Although we are not yet a nation and we are more divided than before, we should give thanks to God. I hope that one day, we will become a nation. I want to be part of that history. I want to raise shoulders with my counterparts to talk only about Nigeria. Certainly I don’t have any doubt in my mind that we will get there. I commend those who fought for our independence from Britain. We are still benefitting from what they did and we have an opportunity to do better in future. I call on all Nigerians to celebrate because we are still one country, 61 years after we got independence from the British. Let us thank God and hope that one day we shall have a nation we can call our own.
To some people, the creation of state police will help to curb insecurity. How do you see it?
I fully support the creation of state police. I am an advocate of community policing. Let’s create state police as a way of complementing the work being done by the Nigeria Police. We are a nation of over 200 million people and the police seem to be overwhelmed or overstretched. When we have state police or community policing, it will make the task of securing Nigerians easier. The idea of having state police will not be a novel or strange one. Other countries, such as the United States and Germany, have federal and state police. I believe that where there is a will, there will always be a way. If we are sincerely committed to having it established, members of the National Assembly and the executive will work in harmony to make it become a reality. However, it is left for these two arms of government to take or reject it. There is a renewed clamour for state police. I believe that government should heed the call. While we await action on that, we have to embark on a massive recruitment drive in order to increase the present number of police personnel across the country, especially now that criminals are gradually overwhelming the Nigeria Police. I suggest that government should come up with a strategy to employ more personnel. We should also recruit more personnel for members of the armed forces. We can use part of the security votes being collected by state governors, some who can’t account for the money, to pay the salaries and allowances of the new recruits.
Our external debt is huge and many are raising concern over President Muhammadu Buhari’s efforts to get fresh loans. Are you concerned too?
Yes. I believe Nigeria may end up running into trouble, if the Federal Government refuses to stop borrowing. We should not think that these creditors would forgive us our debts again.
By taking these loans, we are mortgaging the future of future generations of Nigerians. Government should devise other means of generating funds to execute projects or for infrastructural development, instead of resorting to foreign loans every now and then. These foreign loans have far-reaching effects that may have unpalatable consequences for the country.